Wales’ Chief Medical Officer says Covid rates ‘increasing among younger age groups’ but backs scrapping restrictions
Wales’ Chief Medical Officer has said that Covid case rates are increasing among younger age groups and have stabilised “at a relatively high level”, but backed the scrapping of most Covid restrictions today.
Dr. Frank Atherton stated his opinion to the Welsh Government on Wednesday, before First Minister Mark Drakeford announced today that Wales was scrapping almost all remaining Covid restrictions. His advice was published today.
The changes to restrictions mean that nightclubs will reopen, the rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings at hospitality venues, 2m social distancing will no longer be required, and working from home will no longer be a legal requirement.
Cases have been slowly rising in Wales for the last few days, but there has not been the kind of exponential growth seen in late December and early January.
But Dr. Frank Atherton said that the NHS was not being overwhelmed, however, and that vaccines should keep server cases at a low level.
“Community rates of COVID-19 infection have declined steadily over the last two weeks but now appear to be stabilising at a relatively high level with an increase in rates among younger age groups,” he said.
“COVID-19 related hospital admissions and NHS absence rates have also fallen and it currently appears unlikely that direct COVID-19 pressures will exceed health and social care capacity.
“Although community rates remain at high levels, our vaccination programme is restricting direct harms to much lower levels than were seen in previous waves. The epidemiological picture in Wales is therefore supportive of a continued move to Alert Level 0 restrictions.
“We should continue to monitor any upward pressures on case rates and, as part of our transition planning, should develop effective surveillance so as to have advance notice of any resurgence or variants which might require a re-escalation of our response.”
The rules now
On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level zero. This means:
- Nightclubs can re-open.
- The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
- The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
- Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details. The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
- Working from home will remain important but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
- Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus, which may include 2m social distancing or controlled entry.
- Face-covering rules, which apply on public transport and in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes and nightclubs.
Everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus but the Welsh Government has reduced the self-isolation period from seven to five full days.
People are advised to take two negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart on days five and six. The self-isolation support scheme payment will return to the original rate of £500 for all those who are eligible.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said the relaxation of protections was possible thanks to the hard work of everyone in Wales and the success of the vaccination programme.
“We have passed the peak of this omicron wave and there are encouraging signs that cases of coronavirus may be starting to stabilise,” he said.
“But we all need to continue taking steps to stay safe – unfortunately the pandemic is not over yet.
“We are moving to alert level zero and we will retain some important protections, such as face coverings in most indoor public places and risk assessments.
“We can do this thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone in Wales and the remarkable success of our vaccine and booster programmes. Thank you all.”
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